They Shall Not Grow Old is a day-in-the-life of the British soldier during World War I. The documentary from Peter Jackson was commissioned by the Imperial War Museums and 14-18 NOW in association with the BBC to celebrate the centennial of Armistice Day. When these groups approached Jackson, they had only one caveat: Jackson must use their archived WWI footage exclusively. After a think, Jackson decided to restore this old footage using modern production techniques, all towards a singular effort: show us the life of a WWI British soldier.
Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a satirical masterpiece. In this piece, we will discuss the germination of the great film and then detail how the director combines a serious camera (Part I), genuine but exaggerated characters (Part II), and a farcical tone (Part III) into one of the greatest condemnations of the military state of all time. Kubrick’s aim is simple: to subvert the grim seriousness of the Cold War by showcasing the absurdities that arise from taking concepts like “mutually assured destruction” and “nuclear deterrence” to their logical conclusions.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
-Thomas Grey, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,1751
Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory is often celebrated as the director’s first true masterwork. Adapting a novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb, Kubrick’s film contemplates power struggles, justice, and the wastefulness of war. The crux of the story involves three French soldiers who are court-martialed for cowardice after retreating from an impossible attack, but Kubrick’s story is not a mere anti-war film. The trite idea that “war is bad” is taken as a given, and augmented by multiple impressive cinematic and storytelling techniques into an even more powerful statement: there is an utter absurdity to war, one that incentivizes an habitual abuse of power and a routine miscarriage of justice.
Stanley Kubrick described his heist film The Killing as his, “first mature work”, and the film boasts many of the director’s eventual hallmarks. Techniques that appear in Kubrick’s later masterpieces can be seen in a nascent form throughout the film, as if Kubrick is exploring the possibilities of his own voice and style. Specifically, The Killing purposely confuses the viewer through keen story structure choices and twists on the heist genre. The result is a disorientation that forwards a theme that trickery, thievery, and crime – even those which are meticulously planned, are doomed to failure.
The strongest fantasy stories depict a world which is different from our own while telling stories which are fundamental to the human condition. In the case of Pleasantville, the idyllic 1950s town is an actual paradise where the high school basketball team never loses, the fire department merely has to rescue cats trapped in trees, and dinner is always ready when you come home. But perfection, safety, and comfort are not the default, and when two real-life children introduce new ideas to the sheltered town, Pleasantville transforms from black-and-white safe space into vivid real-life.
Denis Villeneuve Week continues with the director’s first feature-length English-language film, Polytechnique (though the film was actually produced in both English and French, I will be reviewing the English film; Blu Ray editions contain both versions, if you’re sufficiently interested). The film is a realistic, formalist reproduction of the events of December 6, 1989, which would come to be known as the École Polytechnique Massacre (aka the Montreal Massacre). Villeneuve treats the subject with the utmost respect, and delivers a stark and beautiful rejection of all doctrines of hate. The trailer below offers a powerful sample of this great film:
Precisely every 23 minutes, the standard length of a half-hour of broadcast network television, Good Night, and Good Luck. is interrupted by a jazz song. This instills George Clooney’s Red Scare historical drama with a distinctly episodic feel, mirroring the drama that unfolds on screen. The story follows newscaster Edward R. Murrow as he and others at CBS confront Senator Joseph McCarthy at the height of his anti-communist witch hunts. Shot in color but corrected to black-and-white, the film returns us to another time where paranoia ruled the nation, and where men capable of capitalizing on it rose to national prominence by fanning the fear. It also offers a biting condemnation of media outlets in general, and especially the corporate nature of television broadcasts.
Here in Madison, Wisconsin, the Overture Performing Arts Center screens silent movies with live accompaniment from an organist as part of a program they call, “Duck Soup Cinema”. On April 18th, I had the pleasure of watching Buster Keaton’s, The General in this setting, and it was one of the more fun movie-going experiences I have had in a long time. We were fortunate to experience this film at the hands of Mr. Dennis James, an accomplished organist and lover of silent film.